Saturday 24 February 2018

Food storage company pleads guilty to breaching health and safety laws leading to death of employee

The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin
The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin

Sonya McLean

A food storage company will be sentenced next May for breaching health and safety laws leading to the death of one of its employees.

Robert Ceremuga (32), a warehouse supervisor for VF Coldstores Ltd was killed instantly when racking holding 36 tonnes of food stuff collapsed onto him.

A representative of VF Coldstores Ltd of Jamestown Road, Finglas, Dublin pleaded guilty on behalf of the company at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to health and safety failings involving a forklift leading to the death on November 28, 2015.

Mr Ceremuga was described by his wife, Maria, in a victim impact statement read out in court, as “an exceptional man” with a good sense of humour, a huge heart, “a head for ideas for life and a great passion for life”.

She said their then four month old daughter Martina, was her husband's “pride and joy”.

“Even after she fell asleep he would still be holding her in his arms so as not to lose any of her smiles,” Mrs Ceremuga said.

Mrs Ceremuga said it was very difficult without Robert, who she described as “my love, my best friend and my entire life “and added how hard it was to accept he was “gone forever”.

“It should never have happened,” she concluded in her statement. He had worked for the company for six years.

An engineer's report following the accident concluded that the collapse occurred due to an accidental impact with pallets on a forklift that had been stopped beside the shelving.

The general operative who had been operating the forklift had been employed by the company three weeks earlier and didn't have the appropriate license.

This man doesn't accept that the pallets struck the racking and there is no CCTV footage of the actual collapse to verify his claim. VF Coldstores have not challenged the engineer's report.

A subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Authority concluded that in addition to the operative not having the correct training, the racking had been overloaded and the pallets should have been removed before the forklift operative had started working on the unit.

VF Coldstores Ltd is a small family run business, which began operating in the 1980/1990s. It has no previous convictions. At the time of the accident it employed 18 people.

The company has offered to pay the costs of the Director of Prosecutions in bringing the case to court.

The court heard that VF Coldstores had the appropriate safety statement, risk assessment and all their employees, bar the one who had been in charge of the forklift that day, had the appropriate training.

The directors of VF Coldstores said in a statement that Mr Ceremuga was “a diligent, hardworking family man”, who was held in the highest regard by the entire staff and their customers.

The statement said that “Robert's death has cast a shadow over the company forever”. The company continued to pay his wages for a year after the accident.

Ronan Kennedy BL, defending said this was “a small and probably insignificant gesture but it reflects the decency which exists within the company and more importantly the regard with which Mr Ceremuga was held”.

Judge Melanie Greally said to Mr Ceremuga's widow that she fully understood what she said in her victim impact statement.

“That no amount of fine or money will restore your husband to your family. To put a figure on the loss of a husband and a father to a very young child is impossible to calculate,” Judge Greally said.

She added that she needed a bit of time to conduct “a scientific approach” to ascertaining the fine before she adjourned the case to May 6, next.

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